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Computers have altered children's ability to imagine

Art of Technology Schools competition shows dramatic changes in kids' creative thinking

Posted by Stephanie Broad | October 29, 2016 | E-safety

A national UK study into children’s attitudes to technology has found that children are incorporating computing into their individual inner worlds and have found another way of playing and imagining which accommodates the change.  

Children of all ages from across England and Wales submitted paintings and drawings to the Art of Technology competition, supported by IT and services supplier Stone Group. The children were invited to draw pictures around the questions “What’s inside your computer?”, What does WiFi look like?” and “How do you stay safe online?” Children's illustrator Jonny Lambert judged the competition and educational psychologist Dr Kairen Cullen analysed the entries to establish the effect that technology is having on children’s education, their opinions, friendships and decisions.

The conclusions provide some dramatic action points for schools and parents, putting the integration of technology into education back at the top of the curricular agenda.

Some of the entries dealt with Internet safety

Research conclusions 

•  Blurred boundaries of on and offline - Children do not distinguish between on and offline as ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ life anymore. Computing, and using computers, is real life. When asked what goes on inside your computer, children view the computer as a reflection of the real world.

•  Technology is a window into a new world - Features of the real or natural world are disappearing from children’s creative representations of their lives, often replaced by elements of fantasy or sci-fi. Many of the artworks depict a blurring of the distinction between the man-made and living worlds. There is also a strong sense that technology helps to generate original thinking

•  WiFi as a vehicle for experience and enjoyment – WiFi, its existence, the control of it and access to it is of deep concern to children. Analysis shows that children see it as almost elemental, as immutable as the weather, literally part of the landscape. It’s represented as omnipresent, over-arching and essential to human connection and collaboration, with many of the artworks conveying a sense of wonder and amazement at the power and potential of WiFi.

•  Computers are just a means to an end – Children see computers as a gateway to content, entertainment and activities, not as an activity in itself. They are hyper-aware of brands, logos and a multitude of media services, from Minecraft to Netflix and various specific games and education software programmes. 

•  Parents not in the picture on internet safety – The analysis shows children recognise potential online dangers and know internet safety boundaries, etiquettes, and the need to be selective in what they access and the personal information they disclose in order to stay safe online. But a lack of parental or adult presence in any of their artistic depictions of e-safety leaves questions about what authority they learn from and respect

•  If you don’t know, then you’re not playing with us – Although it’s a well-told adage that children’s technology knowledge is often greater than that of adults, the research shows that it’s becoming presumed knowledge, much like reading and writing. Children expect each other to be living the same reality as they are – where computers are totally present. As a result, the computing curriculum needs to be aligned to this new way of thinking, with a focus on higher level creativity and computational thinking, supported by teaching staff with the skills to drive this movement

Dr Kairen Cullen said that the study could be key to schools wanting to incorporate technology into a pedagogical strategy.

“The analysis of the artwork has very much shown three major and over-arching psychological themes of the core human needs for achievement, belonging and control, which the modern curriculum should be taking into account. Technology clearly offers many opportunities as well as challenges to the fulfilment of these needs and by trying to understand children’s perceptions, ideas, worries and fears we stand a much better chance of developing the positive potential of technology," she said.

The competition showed how comfortable children have become with technology, added Cullen.

"It’s obvious from the rich creative aspects of the competition entries that children have incorporated technology into their individual inner worlds and, in this way, have found another way of playing and imagining, which is so essential to their overall development, wellbeing and preparation for life,” she said.

Simon Harbridge, CEO of Stone Group said that they had been amazed by the response to the competition by the children.

“Although some may see the proliferation of logo knowledge as concerning, we regard it as recognition of what children see as essential tools for living and learning, and what they regard as aspirational.

“Our challenge as parents, educators and technology providers is to affect balance in a child’s immersion in technology. Yes, a change in children’s ability to imagine and play is a flag, but it’s not necessarily a red one,” he said. 

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